The world-renowned medical journal, the Lancet, could not be clearer on the obesity problem: Action is needed – now!

In the UK, one in four people is now classed as obese, and because obesity is linked to a whole host of health problems, from diabetes through to heart disease and on to cancer, the NHS quite rightly sees the problem as a ticking time bomb.

One of the main reasons for this ‘fat explosion’ is the increasing availability of cheap, fast food. But should we blame the fast food ‘restaurants’ for the problem? I think not. For it’s about time that the individual started to take responsibility for his or her own health.

Many food manufacturers are making a concerted effort to persuade consumers to eat low-fat meals, in tandem with pledges to reduce the salt, sugar and fat content of food and pursue more responsible marketing initiatives. Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t seem to be having much of an effect.

Of course, losing weight and becoming healthier is easy – technically at least. All you have to do is eat less and exercise more. Indeed, studies have confirmed that a low-fat diet and 60 minutes of walking a day can significantly reduce body weight and waist size.

It’s not rocket science.
However, as a society we are continuously bombarded by dietary advice – the latest faddy diets, celebrity endorsed diets, slimming pills; the list goes on. It’s all very confusing.

A recent university study involved four groups, which included a control group, a low-fat diet group, a walking group, and a group that combined low-fat diet and walking. Apart from the control group, all groups achieved weight loss as well as a reduction in their waist size.

The group which achieved the most significant results was the group which combined a low-fat diet with daily walking. This group also experienced a reduction in cholesterol levels.

Low-fat foods, therefore, should be an incredibly easy sell. But that’s not necessarily the case. There are perhaps several reasons for this, including the fact that a growing number of consumers no longer believe the advertising. People smile wryly at claims that a certain food will help them to look like they did in 1985.

An even bigger problem is the cult of celebrity, with so called ‘stars’ (many of which I’ve personally never heard of) explaining to the increasingly gullible public how they discovered a new diet somewhere in a cave in California that allowed them to drop half a dress size in just 18 years.

Then there are fantastically well marketed fad solutions such as the Atkins Diet. The evidence against it is phenomenal, with Dr. Kevin Vigilante, M.D., a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University in the United States, just one health professional warning of its potential dire consequences: the association between meat consumption and colon cancer is very strong, and recent evidence has convincingly linked well-cooked meat to breast cancer; a recent study indicates that ketosis (the cornerstone of the Atkins diet) can promote oxidation, a key step in many diseases including cancer and heart disease; and saturated fat has been shown to raise levels of LDL cholesterol, which is strongly associated with heart disease.

So maybe we need a little less slick advertising from the low-fat brands and a little more in-your-face honesty: you see a lot of fat people and you see a lot of old people, but you don’t see a lot of fat old people.

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